Monday, August 16, 2010

Andrew Davidson's Gargoyle

What a pleasure it is, when visiting my daughters' and son's homes, to see books that I want to borrow. After guiding them through childhoods and adolescences filled with books, carefully chosen, introducing them to favourite authors old and new, reading aloud as often as possible, it's such a treat to have them return the favour and introduce me to books I'd like to read.

Baby-sitting our granddaughter a few weeks ago, I had time to study my daughter's bookshelves while Nola napped, and I spotted a few books worth borrowing. One of them was William Boyd's Restless, which I wrote about a few posts ago. The other was a book I'd given B for Christmas a year or two ago: Andrew Davidson's The Gargoyle. It promised to be one of those sumptuously satisfying big novels, perfect for the beach (although I'm not, quite honestly, a beach reader -- the closest I get is my armchair by the open window, from which I can see and hear the ocean . . .). I had hopes it might be as good to sink into as Elizabeth Kostova's The Historian, with enough interesting research to justify all the guilty pleasure.

And so it was. The narrator experiences a perhaps predictable trajectory of positive transformation after enduring a horrific car accident, and the subsequent treatments for extensive, disfiguring burns. The Beatrice who guides him through this inferno is a possibly schizophrenic woman convinced that she knew and loved him in an early (medieval) life, and she funds their contemporary life together through her stonecarvings of gargoyles. Preposterous, yes, but also compelling, especially given the wealth of detail about medieval spiritual life, about book-making during that period, and about spirituality in general. And love. And pain. And joy.

Davidson uses the story-within-a-story structure cleverly, tying the numerous interior stories about love and pain (always interwoven) so that they are integral to the central narrative -- he affirms a favourite belief of mine that storytelling heals while it entertains, and he reminds us that while love and pain are so often interwoven in the most important stories we tell, they are so in innumerable permutations, each individual variation offering just a bit more illumination on the big mystery of life.

The contemporary cast of caregivers in the Burn Unit is also enjoyable, and I was fascinated and moved by the insight into the world behind disfigured, burnt skin. I've been considering a research project or two around skin imagery in film and literature, and this book could clearly contribute to that with its meditations on skin and identity, skin as boundary, skin and humanity and/or monstrosity.

Davidson is a Canadian writer, and The Gargoyle was his debut novel. Much hype was splashed about at the time about the novel, and I'm curious to know how well it became known internationally and at home. Have you read it? or heard about it? If not, I'd recommend getting hold of a copy should you want a satisfying book to settle down with some rainy evening this fall or frosty night this winter. Hard to imagine here, right now, but those rainy and frosty days are on their way . . .


  1. I haven't heard his name, but I'll put that book on my ever-expanding list of books to look for. I love the thought of seeing books I want to read in my children's houses one day. Kid 2 is an obsessive reader (she struggled to learn, and finally got there through sheer determination); Kid 1 learnt very quickly and easily, but reads only sporadically ... I wonder what sort of readers they will be as they grow older.

  2. I recently read this and was riveted. It reminded me a lot of The Time Traveler's Wife. I can't say why though. I liked it because it touched on such diverse subjects (porn, anyone?). I'm also interested to see what he comes up with next.

  3. Tiffany: I think today's kids have so many competing possibilities for entertainment that it's tough to sustain that interest in books. But it does seem that our example, as parents, makes a big difference.
    Tessa: I haven't read The Time Traveler's Wife, but I can imagine a superficial similarity in the time-straddling. And how could I have forgotten the porn?!!